Seanad debates

Wednesday, 11 June 2003

Humanitarian Issues in Post-War Iraq: Statements (Resumed).

 

10:30 am

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I second the motion proposed by Senator Norris. I am glad the Minister of State used the word "occupation". It is difficult to make an appeal under the Geneva Convention concerning the responsibilities of occupying powers unless one admits those forces are in a position of occupation, which is what the invading armies are in Iraq.

Like Senator Norris, I opposed the war. Unfortunately, I can understand to some extent the Government's position. A very vindictive Government is in power in the United States of America. I was saddened by the words of Condoleezza Rice, an adviser to President Bush, who said France must be punished. If the US Government continues to adopt that approach internationally towards those with which it disagrees, especially on such serious issues, there is very little room for progress. I issued a newsletter on the war to some constituents and received a great deal of support for my opposition, especially from people who had worked in hospitals in Baghdad.

Like Senator Norris, I also objected to Saddam Hussein's activities during the years. Not only did we send him meat for his army, anyone from Iraq on whose behalf I sought asylum was refused. One was a surgeon from the Iraqi army who sought asylum because he was being asked to amputate the limbs of deserters from the army. He fled to Ireland where he had undergone some training. We did not even think at that stage of granting him asylum. We must examine the way we have behaved during the years and realise that we are now in a position within the European Union to act in a responsible way in this regard.

We are socially acceptable to the people of Iraq, which is a major advantage. We have an enormous responsibility to try to do everything we can to help them. The Minister of State pointed out the appalling decline in the health statistics in that country. This has been ongoing since the late 1980s. Maternal and infant mortality figures are now much worse than in Iran. Iraq was previously much better than its neighbour.

We have no idea of the number of casualties, civilian and military, in the last war in Iraq. Certainly, they are in their tens of thousands but the situation is such that thousands more are dying, especially children. This is due to the destruction of the health service and the looting of hospitals. It is extraordinarily important that we address this issue at once or the casualty figures from the war will be much higher.

There was something macabre about the G8 meeting taking place in a spa, Evian, full of clean water when, in another country not that far from Switzerland, obtaining clean water was one of the main responsibilities the occupying powers should have been undertaking. It is extraordinary that the oil wells have been secured while the water wells have not and that people are still drilling for water in their backyards. Precedence has been given towards securing the oil desired by the United States of America rather than securing the health of the Iraqi people. Senator Norris gave a vivid account of the spread of disease by water. This is appalling. I gather that in Iraq a child can expect to have about ten bouts of diarrhoea a year. It is very difficult for any child to survive in those circumstances.

We must examine other important elements also. Through the worst of times and thanks to UNICEF to a large extent, Iraq tried to keep its immunisation programmes operational. I presume all the supplies have now been looted. I take Senator Lydon's point that we prefer to supply aid towards this type of project rather than towards the firms which Senator Norris said were going to rebuild the country's infrastructure. Will Minister of State examine the immunisation programme in Iraq? There was a breakdown a few years ago and polio broke out again. They managed to resurrect their immunisation system and rectify matters through courageous work by some of their doctors. Polio has been eradicated internationally and it would be terrible if pockets were to break out again. Given that it is a water-borne disease, we need to examine this very carefully.

The armies of occupation have an enormous responsibility to protect the humanitarian aid workers in Iraq. It is understandable why so many excellent organisations have not returned foreign workers to the country. Their faces may not be very acceptable at present. I applaud the Red Cross and UNICEF for the work they do. Their people in Iraq are behaving in an incredible manner. We must put it to the military forces that they must protect them. This is not happening in Afghanistan. I listened the other night to an Irish aid worker, Patrick O'Brien, who said their lives were in danger all the time. It is important to remember that more UN humanitarian aid workers are killed internationally than members of peacekeeping forces. I have always found this an extraordinary statistic but apparently it is true.

The occupying forces must also assist the United Nations inspectors in examining the nuclear facilities that have been looted. One hears appalling stories of clothes being washed in barrels which were used to store nuclear residue or something similar. As happened after Chernobyl, this could lead to the spread of infected clothes throughout the country and would be a major factor in causing leukaemia. There are also the matters of depleted uranium weapons and cluster bombs scattered throughout Iraq which need to be dealt with. We have a duty to point out to the forces there that these are their responsibility. As this is covered by the Geneva Convention, it should not be very difficult to do.

What has been the fate of those people who were part of the regime and surrendered or were arrested by the occupying forces? I am thinking specifically about the two women scientists attractively nicknamed, Mrs. Anthrax and Mrs. Bacteria, or something similar. What has been their fate? We have heard nothing about them. It is fine to say they will be interrogated to obtain information from them but how valuable will that information be? The dreadful spectacle of Guantanamo Bay is still ongoing, a matter about which we should make representations.

I have spoken previously during business in the House and on the Adjournment about the scuppering by the United States of attempts to introduce a verification protocol to the 1972 United Nations convention on biological weapons and toxins, on which great work was done in Geneva for many years. When all was going well in late 2000 and early 2001 and we hoped something would be signed in July 2001 and the verification protocol agreed, the United States pulled out in July and stated it would bring something better forward in September. Almost two years later, nothing has been brought forward. The only country I know of where anthrax has been a problem is the United States of America. They never seem to have found who was responsible. It must be a cause of concern for people in America to know that someone is capable of obtaining anthrax, putting it in envelopes, sending it and no one has managed to find him. We need to hunt these people down in case they end up posting such envelopes to us. These issues are all extremely important.

I cannot understand why the occupying forces in the Kurdish area are, according to newspaper reports, refusing to allow the harvest to be brought in because they are afraid the Arabs and Kurds in the area will fight. However, the Arabs and the Kurds have stated that they have no intention of doing so. There are plenty of farmers in this House who can tell us that the harvest will not wait forever. Are the occupying forces trying to make these people even more dependent on aid from us? I would welcome it if the Minister of State could have this matter investigated.

I am glad that Senator Leyden talked about how the West nurtures dreadful dictators when it feels it is in its interests to do so and that it is only when they have gone completely crazy that we pull the rug out from under them. One wonders about the many countries – including Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and others in that region – whose despotic regimes are not being dealt with. What about the regime in Burma? We are delighted to hear that Aung San Suu Kyi is alive, but nobody has sent any troops to invade Burma. Even though the people voted in favour of a different Government, no one in the West felt there was any need for a regime change.

The Minister of State and his officials have a great commitment to this area. I compliment his officials on printing the Minister of State's speech on both sides of the paper. That is an environmental issue in which I am interested and it is well worth printing speeches in this way. I hope the Minister of State makes these points, because we have a very important voice in Iraq at present and we should use it.

We should also deal with some of the problems we have with the USA. I doubt whether US business interests in this country would withdraw their operations because we might object about the fact that people not being allowed to take in the harvest.

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, and congratulate him on his continued initiatives in the area of aid. Despite being a small country, Ireland plays an important role on the world stage. This is in no small measure due to Deputy Tom Kitt's commitment to his responsibilities in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

A number of speakers referred to issues other than those covered by today's debate. We should realise that we are here to make statements on the humanitarian crisis in post-war Iraq. It is important to reiterate that the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Iraq is a result of two previous international conflicts – the Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf War in which Iraq invaded Kuwait – 12 years of international sanctions imposed by the United Nations and the most recent conflict. As a result of this, in 20 years Iraq has been reduced from a state of relative prosperity to one of mass poverty and ill health. This was highlighted by the Minister of State, who referred to the human development index.

No one should think that the current humanitarian crisis in Iraq is a result of the most recent conflict, although it might suit certain contributors to this debate to narrow the focus and enter into a finger-pointing exercise. They talk about telling the truth: let us speak the truth. Power in Iraq was held by a dictator who practised genocide and mass murder. The meaning of the word "occupation" can be extended to include this. As a result of his rule, conditions in Iraq have deteriorated to their current state. That is the truth.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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Rubbish. Things are worse now than they were six months ago. This is absolute rubbish.

Acting Chairman:

There should be no interruptions. The Labour Party will have an opportunity to make its contribution later.

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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I thank Senator Ryan for that insight into his philosophy.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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The Senator is talking absolute rubbish.

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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I am here to give my opinion and I will speak now.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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I was opposing—

Acting Chairman:

The Senator should be allowed to continue, without interruption.

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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As I said, if we want the truth we must look at the humanitarian conditions. There is evidence to show that there has been a deterioration over a 20-year period. The Senator should not focus the humanitarian crisis into the last six months; it did not happen in that period.

We in Ireland fervently hoped that the most recent military action could have been averted. That was not possible. We hoped that Iraq would be disarmed peacefully and that any military intervention would have the backing of a second UN resolution but, unfortunately, this was not possible. The focus for Ireland and the international community must, therefore, be on the humanitarian crisis and on assisting in every way the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.

The humanitarian arena is where Ireland has credibility in international affairs and it is one of the leading donors of overseas development assistance in the world. We invest heavily in a long-term way in building up partnerships with developing countries in the poorest parts of the world, defending human rights, building robust democracies in poor countries and defending the rights of the vulnerable and the poor in natural and man-made disasters.

Iraq is no different. No sooner had the conflict ended than our NGOs were active on the ground. There has been no shortage of funding. We have a large humanitarian budget, which has flexibility and can respond very quickly to emergencies such as this. I compliment the Minister of State on his commitment of a €5 million funding package for humanitarian assistance for Iraq, which will be delivered via the Red Cross, UNICEF, Trócaire, Concern and GOAL. The key focus of this assistance is emergency support for health services, water and sanitation, food assistance and support for internally displaced persons. Funding was also provided for the United Nations humanitarian co-ordination efforts.

It is important to put our commitment on the record. Since 1999, Ireland has provided more than €6.2 million in humanitarian assistance for Iraq. Ireland's generous response has largely been matched by that of its European neighbours. The European Commission announced an overall package of some €100 million in humanitarian aid, of which €22.5 million has already been allocated. In addition, EU member states have pledged more than €630 million in assistance and more than €263 million of this has been committed thus far. I am sure Ireland's funding will continue to be focused on meeting basic needs within the humanitarian context. I also expect that future funding requests for recovery and reconstruction will be carefully examined in light of developments within Iraq, the role of the UN and the use of oil revenues.

The humanitarian aid effort in Iraq is, unfortunately, not without its dangers and the distribution of aid is a less than seamless measure. Security remains a major concern in many parts of Iraq. There is concern that some main routes, particularly in the north and north-east, are becoming increasingly dangerous due to attacks by armed gangs. The UN has set up a security co-ordination cell in Baghdad to keep the humanitarian community informed of security developments throughout the country.

As always, our praise and admiration must go to the NGOs active on the ground. Theirs is a dangerous but valuable and important job and they must be accorded the highest praise. Commitment by governments of money from overseas development budgets is meaningless if we do not have people on the ground to distribute the aid and ensure that it is given to those who need it most. I welcome the process of general disarmament taking place among the civilian community because this is necessary to ensure proper and efficient distribution of aid.

The NGOs are best positioned and best equipped to distribute aid and work to alleviate hardship and suffering. There is nothing more demeaning than to see soldiers fling food parcels from the backs of trucks. Humanitarian agencies have an independence and professionalism in terms of the distribution of aid which cannot be replicated by soldiers. We should be in no doubt that the humanitarian situation in Iraq is indeed a pressing one. Demands for health and medical services continue to outstrip supplies. The impact of instability and the consequent breakdown of basic services is more severe in the principal cities, particularly Baghdad.

Cholera levels remain within the norm for this time of year in Iraq. However the approaching seasonal peak of hot weather is aggravating the weakened condition of the more vulnerable, mainly in the cities. While the World Health Organisation continues to monitor the position, the possibility of a serious outbreak is one of the major challenges in the weeks ahead. According to UNICEF, the health situation of children in Iraq remains tenuous. Many children continue to suffer from high rates of diarrhoeal disease, much higher than this time last year. Dysentery and typhoid are also becoming problematic, mainly due to the shortage of drinking water and damage to the health infrastructure.

The need is, therefore, great and I am glad that Ireland and the international community are rising to the challenge, with the UN playing a central role. The new UN Special Representative for Iraq, Sergio de Mello, who arrived in Baghdad on 2 June, has met Paul Bremer, administrator of the coalition provisional authority, to discuss the role of the UN in areas such as humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, development, civil administration, legal and judicial reform and human rights. Thousands of food agents have resumed the distribution of food rations in all Iraqi areas. The food distribution is reported to be proceeding smoothly. Since the first week of April to the end of May, the World Food Programme has brought about 440,000 tonnes of food to Iraq to replenish the food distribution system.

I am glad that the reconstruction of Iraq is high on the political agenda of all nations within and outside the EU. US officials have announced that a meeting of donors to raise money for the rebuilding of Iraq is planned for September, following preliminary discussions at a meeting to be held in New York in June.

Reference was made earlier to the G8 summit. It is to be welcomed that it has been agreed to unite behind the Iraqi reconstruction effort, despite lingering disputes over the justification for the recent war. Like the EU, Ireland welcomed the recent adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1483 on post-conflict Iraq and the creation of the post of UN Special Representative. The resolution achieves one of the main objectives pursued by the EU, namely, that the UN must play a central role in the reconstruction process of Iraq and lend legitimacy to the action of the international community and its members. The EU has committed itself to play a significant role in the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq.

It cannot be denied that the institution of the UN was one of the casualties in the recent conflict. This is all the more reason that the UN has to regain lost ground by showing leadership in facing up to the many challenges now confronting the international community as result of the war in Iraq. In this regard, I am glad that the Security Council has united to chart the way forward for Iraq by passing Resolution 1483, which spells out the assistance one would expect the United Nations, in co-ordination with the occupying forces, to give the Iraqi people. The most important task is to ensure that the Iraqi people are able, as soon as possible, to govern themselves. We must maintain international pressure to endure the hand-over of democratic control by allowing the election of a government, which will be representative of all the people of Iraq, at the earliest opportunity.

Nobody was in any doubt that Saddam Hussein's regime was a ruthless and bloody dictatorship. Nobody denied that Iraq had been in wilful defiance of the international community. It is unfortunate that a conflict had to take place but, in my opinion, it was necessary. The focus must now be on reconstruction, relief and humanitarian resources. We can take pride, as a country, in the fact that we are playing our part in that regard. Keeping peace and enforcing it will be a challenge in the months ahead. We must encourage greater UN involvement, a reduction of the involvement of the occupying forces and their replacement, as appropriate, with proper civil administrative structures and, if necessary, a peace force. I support Senator Bradford's call for serious consideration of the re-opening of the Irish Embassy in Iraq.

The Government will not take its focus off Africa as a result of its focus on Iraq. We have a long-standing commitment to overseas aid throughout the world and I am sure that will continue.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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I wish to share time with Senator Tuffy.

Acting Chairman:

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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The idea of an Irish ambassador returning to Baghdad at present is among the more bizarre suggestions I have ever heard. To whom would an Irish Ambassador present his credentials? Would he genuflect before an American or a representative of the British Government? There is no government there; the only government—

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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The Senator is taking my comments out of context.

Acting Chairman:

Senator Ryan, without interruption.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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Senator Minihan said he supported the return of the Irish Ambassador to Baghdad. An ambassador has to present his credentials to somebody. To whom would the returning ambassador present his credentials? I will await an answer later.

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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If the Senator had been in the House when Senator Bradford spoke, he would have a better understanding of what was suggested.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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Let us move on.

Reference has been made to the vast sums of money the EU is supposed to have allocated. It has spent €285 million, but it allocated €700 million. Let us place this in context: to date, the war has cost over $60 billion. That is about 50% of our gross domestic product for a year. To compensate the Iraqi people for the consequences of that expenditure of $60 billion, we, the heroic Europeans, are going to spend approximately €500 million at current exchange rates. The irony of our paying anything to make up for the damage caused by two countries which fought an illegal and immoral war is beyond me. Because I, like many Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, am a humanitarian, I will not object on account of the particular irony of the situation.

Let us be clear, however, there was no legal or moral basis for this war. The post hoc justification on the basis of the horrific nature of the regime is, perhaps, the most selective use of selective information I have seen in a long time in the House. Of course, Saddam Hussein was a brute. I knew that and said so in the House 20 years ago. When we were feeding his army during his illegal war on Iran – which he fought because he was encouraged to do so by the United States and Britain – I did not hear one sanctimonious word about human rights from Fianna Fáil or any of its allies during that period because its friends in the meat industry made money out of that bloodthirsty regime. I ask them to spare me their post hoc humanitarian concern for the people of Iraq. When we were making money out of the situation there, they did not care. The should also spare me that concern, particularly in light of the fact that the governments of half the countries that have joined the alliance to liberate Iraq are also brutal tyrannies. I refer here to the countries peripheral to Iraq, which were part of the former Soviet Union and among which there is not one democracy. Some of them have dictators who have been planted permanently in place with US aid because they have accepted American bases. Spare me the humanitarian concern when what in fact one is doing is stabilising dictatorships in the region – in Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and all those places where there has been one dictatorship after another. Let us not bother talking about Tunisia, Morocco or Saudi Arabia.

I have left out remarks about the current situation because we know it is awful. Contrary to what has been said in the past few minutes, it has got spectacularly worse since the war. The health and education of children have got worse, as have the health service, the supply of clean water and food supplies. These are all worse than before.

There has been wonderful glorious progress, as the Minister of State said. All the universities are electing their own heads, an extraordinary development. We do not allow that here but perhaps we will. When one is foraging for evidence that there has been progress, I am sure one must take whatever is presented.

It is a glorious mess. It is disingenuous of the Minister of State, a man for whom I have great personal regard, to say it is not as bad as it could be.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The Senator can interpret the opposite.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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That is true about any situation. There has never been a situation which could not have been worse. Therefore, to say it is not as bad as it could be is simply to say it could be worse. Of course, it could.

The fundamental facts are that the Government accepted, without reservation, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that it was a threat to its neighbours and the rest of the world. Neither of these statements was true. One of the ironies of life is that the best summary I have heard is a line from Rudyard Kipling:

If any question why we died,

Tell them because our fathers lied.

The two Governments involved lied to their peoples, parliaments and the world. They knew there was no threat and that there were no weapons of mass destruction but I suppose they will find something somewhere. Iraq was a country with a nasty government and regime but the idea that there was an imminent threat to neighbouring countries, the United States, Britain or the western world generally was a fabrication deliberately entered into by two democratically elected governments and clearly a lie. They did not have any convincing evidence of weapons of mass destruction and the post hoc changing of the analysis to suggest that it was about liberation from tyranny is a convenient smokescreen for the greatest lie perpetrated on the Irish people since Lyndon Johnson fabricated the Gulf of Ton Kin incident to justify war in Vietnam, or perhaps since Leonid Breznev imagined that the liberation of Czechoslovakia was a serious threat to the security of the Soviet Union – one can pick either example, where big powers told lies to the people to justify actions which would otherwise not have been justified.

The war was wrong but what was even worse was the bland indifference of what are occupying powers to the well-being of the people. It goes without saying some degree of disorder was inevitable. The scale of looting, massive disorder and the collapse of any sense of personal security in what was the state of Iraq for a considerable period after the occupation, and still is in many cases, is clearly a choice made by the occupying powers. While they knew how to secure the oil Ministry, they did not know how to secure the hospitals. While they knew how to protect oil wells, they did not know how to protect schools and colleges. While they knew how to protect all of the things worthwhile to them and get contracts for beneficiaries of George Bush, they did not know how to give the ordinary people of Iraq basic rudimentary security.

I do not accept that civilians were killed accidentally. They were killed, not because they were civilians but because an untrained unprepared army was put into a situation which it did not expect and where it used lethal force, just as the Israelis do, in entirely inappropriate circumstances. Any army which feels happy about using cluster bombs in built-up areas will obviously have no great problems about using lethal force when there is a threat to them.

Both in humanitarian and political and military terms, we have got ourselves into another mess, just as in Afghanistan, most parts of which are returning to the medieval control of warlords and, in some cases, the quasi-medieval control of the Taliban and where the country's single biggest export, the by-products of opium, are now flooding the western world again, yet the Government can produce a script which tells me that the position in Afghanistan is improving. One of the liberating powers of Iraq, Australia, which has grabbed most of East Timor's natural gas and oil resources and walked out of an international convention to make sure no international body can rule on that particular grab, is now giving lectures to the rest of the world about the joys of liberation in Iraq.

The truth is we all knew Iraq was a brutal tyranny and I am glad Saddam Hussein has gone. However, brutal tyrannies are not the issue, as we have clearly seen by the refocussing of the malevolent eyes of the present US Administration on Iran. Iran is not perfect but, in the order of democracies and personal freedoms, I will defy the Minister of State to tell me that Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Burma, Zimbabwe, China or any of the other little countries north of Iraq are more democratic.

Iran held significant and comparatively free elections in recent years in which there were two contending leaders with quite different perspectives and the Iranian people voted for the person of their choice. It has been a far from perfect transition, with strong clerical elements preventing the wishes of the people – we are not too far away from such a system of government. There were free elections contended by parties with different views and now we are told they are the next target. From what will we say we are liberating the Iranians? Will we restore the Shah, that model of democracy? Those who are apologists for an illegal and immoral war are inviting Britain and the United States to do it again to another country and will find another post hoc rationalisation when it turns out, yet again, that the threat about which we are told did not exist. It is time to take a step back, look at the world and realise that unless we have a stable system of international order where everybody plays by the rules, we are in danger of moving towards something close to international anarchy.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State for his presentation and Senator Ryan for letting me share his time. I welcome this debate on the humanitarian situation in post-war Iraq. When there were calls for a debate in the Seanad a couple of weeks ago, I envisaged a broader debate which would include the road map for peace for Israel and Palestine, peace and stability in the Middle East, and the role of Ireland, the European Union and the United Nations in that process. As the Leader of the House stated in reply to my request, such a debate would be timely. I hope we can have such a debate in the near future and that the Leas-Chathaoirleach will not mind if I bring these issues briefly into the debate.

While I opposed the war, one good initiative which has come out of it is the road map for peace between Israel and Palestine. While I realise yesterday's events do not augur well for the process, as in the case of Northern Ireland, it is a long and difficult road in achieving peace between two opposing sides.

The Middle East peace process should be placed at the top of Ireland's foreign affairs agenda and those of the EU and the UN. Ireland should do all it can to support both sides in achieving peace and secure and stable states of Israel and Palestine. The United States and the United Kingdom should be encouraged to pay attention to this issue.

The Minister of State spoke about what Ireland can provide in terms of support and motivation for Iraq. Ireland can also provide similar support in the Israel and Palestine situation.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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Is mian liom fáiltiú arís roimh an Aire. Tá áthas orm, dairíre, go bhfuil an díospóireacht seo ag tarlú agus tá suil agam nach é seo an uair deireannach. Tá mise den tuairim gur chóir go mbeadh an díospóireacht seo ann go rialta, mar tá imeachtaí san Íaraic ag athrú ó lá go lá agus ba chóir dúinn a bheith in ann ár dtuairimí a thabhairt maidir le sin.

Ireland has a proud history which is recognised throughout the world. We have many friends internationally and we experience very little hostility in our international relations. One of the main reasons for this is that we never colonised, coerced or exploited any other country. Our contribution has always been one of friendship based on a humanitarian concept. This was exemplified in the work of the missionaries, peacekeeping forces and those who helped emerging legislatures in developing countries to do their work.

I made my position clear on the war in Iraq during the previous debate. I explained my position regarding the pre-emptive military strike by the Anglo-American forces against Iraq. In my opinion, the war was illegal, unjust and immoral. Everything that has happened since has reinforced that point of view. The Minister of State's contribution represents the correct approach to the current situation because it displayed a balanced view that is vital for a country such as Ireland to adopt. I do not contribute to the school of sanitisation of language in order to bring about a surgical transformation of depravity, tragedy or horror. I am pleased that the Minister of State did not contribute to that view either.

There are occupying forces in Iraq. It is clear that there are many people who feel uneasy about the humanitarian issues which are becoming evident. What surprises me most of all is that when we were watching the coverage of the war by the media cartel, we were insulted on an hourly basis by the manner in which the war was presented. It was clear that the coverage was not truthful and that it was evasive and partisan. In the midst of a humanitarian crisis, the media is now playing the same role. Where are the cameras to show us what is happening in Iraq? They should be there, if for no other reason than to arouse the conscience of the international community to make a contribution to alleviate suffering.

In any humanitarian crisis, there must be a two-way focus on the short term and the long term. The short term deals with human suffering, particularly that of the most vulnerable sections of society. Many speakers, including the Minister of State, have made reference to the suffering of children. I find it difficult to understand how political leaders and administrations – the members of most of which hold religious beliefs – can be so gung-ho about war. They do not seem to take the time to look at the terrible suffering. During the war, I saw pictures of two or three trucks bringing in what was obviously symbolic aid. That was an insult to our intelligence and the aid made no impact whatsoever. The occupying powers should pay for humanitarian aid, but should have no direct role in its distribution because I do not trust them. I have no doubt that the media will not give us the opportunity of seeing the reality.

In the same way that I compliment the Government, which is coming out of this so well – as should be the case with in light of our State's legacy and tradition – I also praise the Irish media. Throughout this crisis members of the media here have excelled in trying to show the truthful situation, against all the odds and the privileges of the embedded journalists. I salute RTE and it will be to its eternal credit that, with limited resources, it took a stand and took on the giants of the international media and brought some sense of sanity and balance into this debate.

This debate specifically relates to humanitarian issues, but these cannot be discussed in isolation from the larger issues. Such matters are not mutually exclusive, nor do they exist in different time zones. They must be tackled together. It will never satisfy people with discerning consciences if it is evident that the first bills to be paid out of the reserves and resources of the Iraqi people are the costs of the war. It will be not acceptable if those who were supportive of the war and who are within the golden circle succeed in winning major contracts, at inflated prices, to rebuild what the Anglo-American forces destroyed. I cannot be a contributor to that concept of sanitised language in a debate about human life, human dignity and humanitarian issues.

We are also debating the issue of democracy. There is no need to begin each contribution about Iraq with a condemnation of Saddam Hussein because the whole world knew about him. Many of the countries who condemned Saddam Hussein did business with him. Some of the names prominent in advocating the American position may need to have their bank balances examined to determine whether they have been part of that culture of investment in Iraq. If it is the case that the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the reasons that were advanced for the pre-emptive strike have been removed from the agenda and replaced by an assertion that the war was about removing a brutal regime, I can suggest 12 brutal regimes that might be removed. Will the forces that went into Iraq tackle these regimes? If one examines the resources of the countries in question and discovers how much oil they possess, one will then be able to estimate how quick will be the response.

If I have become cynical during this process, it is because I have been made cynical by the presentation of what has happened in Iraq. The same things, in many ways, happened in Afghanistan. I have said before – I wish to make this clear – that I am very pro-America. I regard the US as a sister nation of Ireland; it can never be otherwise. We have learned and gained a great deal from the US and we have also made a major contribution to that country. The United States is always seen as a friend of Ireland, but I query the level of agreement that is to be found in the political administration there. It is particularly noticeable that the Democratic Party in the US has started to raise its head in recent times. Despite the fact that a presidential election is looming, that party is asking questions and querying the approach being taken. I predict that in a few months' time, people in the US will be engaged in a major debate about what they have got themselves into. How will they justify their record in Iraq when other human rights issues arise?

I will conclude by returning to the humanitarian issue. The Government, in fairness to it, has endeavoured to be generous. It has been generous in more ways than simply providing financial assistance, for example by arguing with the bigger players. Ireland must argue passionately for this issue to come back centre stage at the United Nations Security Council, which has been severely damaged by this episode. We must not be wimpish in making demands in that regard, as we have to argue the case of humankind in every form.

I praise the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, whom I rank as one of the top Ministers in relation to humanitarian matters. I have no doubt that people like him will keep their finger on the pulse to ensure that Ireland will adopt a sovereign, independent and humanitarian attitude in relation to this issue at all times.

Michael Finucane (Fine Gael)
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I rarely speak on foreign affairs issues. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, to the House. As I listened to Senator Ó Murchú, I found that I could not disagree with any of the sentiments he expressed. I do not want to be repetitive in my contribution on this issue.

The Senator was quite right to point out that debate on this matter has opened up in the United States. The aspiring presidential nominees of the Democratic Party there are beginning to ask questions. The harsh contrast in American politics was evident when the US Administration decided, almost with a gung ho approach, to enter Iraq. Professors, journalists and those involved in pop music were ostracised if they expressed any degree of criticism. A pop group called the Dixie Chicks was removed from the playlists of country and western stations and professors and journalists lost their jobs when they tried to give a balanced view or to express some criticism of what was happening. The US has changed dramatically as a result of the events of 11 September 2001, however, and there was probably an ultra-appreciation of what President George Bush was doing.

Many of the comments made in this House today are quite true. I agree with Senator Lydon's comments about the decision of the American and British Governments to act on the basis of the existence of weapons of mass destruction. Various speakers in both Chambers have spoken about this issue and used the term "weapons of mass destruction". It was almost as if this mantra was being used as a form of justification for going into Iraq. Dr. Blix and his team of inspectors were in Iraq for about three and a half months. They needed more time but they were not given it. Dr. Blix did not succeed in finding weapons of mass destruction.

I wish to look back at the Saddam Hussein regime. Sanctions prevailed in Iraq for over 12 years. I recall that it was argued during many debates in this House that the sanctions on medicines and hospital aid should be lifted. They were part of the overall umbrella of sanctions. How many people lost their lives over the 12-year period because they did not have the basic medical supports they required?

The Iraqi economy was also in decline at this time. We know that Saddam Hussein was a dictator and that he salted away millions, but he was probably no different from many other dictators who are in power in African countries. Although the same things are happening in such countries, most African countries do not have the oil deposits to be found in Iraq. Ultimately, this issue was based on the importance of oil to the American economy.

Senator Ó Murchú is correct that at least the Irish media tried to report on the war in Iraq in a balanced manner. It was interesting to read the newspapers at the time, but what was broadcast on some of the international television channels was a sanitised version of events and was very much in favour of the war. The recent debate in Britain on weapons of mass destruction has been interesting. The Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, is under a certain amount of pressure to justify the war on that basis and two Ministers have resigned.

The United States should stop taking such a divisive approach to this issue. Ireland is pro-Europe and France and Germany are our friends, just as the US is. The rhetoric used by Dr. Condoleezza Rice, who is said to have argued that the US should punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia, is inflammatory and totally unnecessary. France and Germany took a certain stance, which was consistent with UN policy at the time. The rhetoric and behaviour of Dr. Rice, who is a senior politician in the US, is not helpful at this time. It serves no purpose in the context of the great rebuilding that needs to be done. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, and the Government do not support the rhetoric that is emanating from the US.

Humanitarian aid is important. The Minister of State has been praised for providing humanitarian aid of €5 million, or £4 million, which is not a significant amount when considered in light of the overall aid which is required in Iraq. A Senator said that one should consider that lovely bridges, which were built in Iraq during the better times, have been bombed out of existence by the US army. A rebuilding process is necessary in that context, but there is a feeling that the contracts will be divvied up among the friends of the Bush regime.

The most important element of humanitarian aid is the provision of sanitation facilities. The Iraqi health care system has been under siege for many years. Many Irish nurses went to work in a hospital in Baghdad some years ago. CARA was supporting the staffing and the hospital had state-of-the-art facilities. Unfortunately, it was allowed to run down. Sanitation is extremely important. It is tragic to see photographs of children swimming in polluted rivers full of sewage. One can get medication in Ireland if one is suffering from diarrhoea, but diarrhoea in Iraq kills about 70% of young children. Cholera, dysentery and typhoid have been mentioned by previous speakers.

Given that the newspapers have reported that people have been bombed out of existence by cluster bombs in Iraq, I was sickened that the first person President Bush grabbed when he got off the aeroplane in Belfast was a two year old child. I could not reconcile that image with the photographs I had seen in the morning newspapers. If anything, it brought home to me the horror of the war.

The legacy that has been left behind in Afghanistan has been mentioned. The objective behind the military actions in Afghanistan was to root out Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. While there have been certain successes in rooting out al-Qaeda, nobody knows the whereabouts of bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.

The Australian Government is giving a great deal of agricultural aid wherever their specialist skills will best operate. Australians are used to farming arid landscapes. I welcome the humanitarian aid.

In fairness, there has been a responsible approach to the Iraqi conflict from this country. This can sometimes be difficult for us because we are very much bedded-in with America, as Senator Ó Murchú mentioned. We have tremendous respect for the American economy. However, sometimes one has to step back and admit that one cannot always run with the pack. One often has to take a detached look at a situation such as this. That is the reason I welcome the comments made in this debate. I also welcome the constructive tenor of the discussion.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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It is bin Laden, not bin Leyden.

Michael Finucane (Fine Gael)
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Sorry.

Acting Chairman:

There is a big difference.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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With the permission of the Acting Chairman, I will share time with Senator Mansergh. We will have five minutes each.

Acting Chairman:

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I particularly welcome the allocation of €5 million announced by him in humanitarian aid for Iraq.

Other Senators have spoken in regard to the media coverage of the war in Iraq. While they were most responsible and provided good coverage, both on television and in the newspapers, it is regrettable that the coverage has not been as good since the war. The situation has not been reported on to the same extent. I hope it will not be forgotten. As has been mentioned, there was a similar state of affairs in regard to Afghanistan. We all remember the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair's talk of promising a coalition against poverty which we never saw but I hope we will see more humanitarian action in relation to Iraq.

In the pre-war period Time magazine was the first to speculate that the United States and Britain would win the war but might not win the peace. This remains a major question. In many ways the United Nations suffered because it was not centre stage. All of the articles I saw focused on the hostility towards it. It is certainly to be regretted that there is now anti-US and anti-British feeling. They are not perceived as friendly countries because of the war. I hope the United Nations will reassert itself and that we will have more coverage of the current situation in Iraq.

One of the things I very much welcomed was the lifting of sanctions against Iraq. I spoke in the House on a few occasions in regard to this matter which has been the cause of extreme difficulty for the Iraqi people. The sanctions on drugs and medication, in particular, have caused much hardship. I have spoken previously on the subjects of leukaemia and black fever and the difficulty in obtaining the necessary cocktail of drugs for their treatment. I cannot understand the reason there is still a delay in getting medication into Iraq. There is also a delay in getting flights to the country, restoring electricity and the purification of water.

I am amazed that while the media coverage is not very good, I saw an article at the weekend in regard to Iraq in which a reporter referred to the quiet roads, the good grub and the welcome to Iraq. In the Irish Independent, journalist, Mr. Mark Steyn, went on to attack the NGO network. He referred to it as the new imperial class: "They shuttle across the globe, mingling with their own kind . bringing with them the values of the mother country, or the mother bureaucracy". That type of reporting in which a person just uses the situation to attack NGOs is wrong. I have great personal regard for NGOs.

When I visited Iraq in January with Deputy Michael D. Higgins, Dominic McSorley from Concern and Ray Jordan from GOAL accompanied us. They were there to talk about the inevitable humanitarian problems when the war was over. I have tried to keep in contact with people whom I met. I know of one Cork student who is working there for 12 years but has, unfortunately, not yet been granted citizenship. However, that is an issue for another Minister. She told me, as recently as yesterday, that electricity was only on for two hours a day in Baghdad and that there were still problems in regard to law and order. People are afraid to go out. They are living in chaos because of the fear of looters and suchlike. All these issues have to be dealt with. As has been mentioned, the situation may deteriorate as the weather gets warmer.

I wish to pay tribute, in particular, to the NGOs like the Red Cross and Oxfam for the good work they have done. I cannot understand the reason Mr. Steyn referred to the fact that they had met to discuss how they would deal with the question of humanitarian aid and how to get supplies to people. We must remember that out of 26 million people in Iraq before the war, something like 18 million depend on food rations. There is a big challenge for the World Food Programme. The Oil for Food Programme must continue. We must ensure supplies are brought to this large number. Senator Finucane referred to the large number of children affected.

I welcome the debate and join in the calls for Irish Embassy officials to be in Baghdad. Activist members of the Ba'ath Party must be brought to justice.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the motion which will be agreed on an all-party basis. I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, and his officials. I compliment him on the fine speech he delivered, not for the first time on this subject, which distils the best values this country can contribute to the resolution of the problems in the aftermath of the war.

If one tries to look at this from a half-positive point of view, there is certainly an unprecedented opportunity to deal properly with the humanitarian problems, many of which predate the war. Some are due to sanctions. Frankly, the West cannot be very proud of the way the sanctions operated, accepting also that food aid was distributed in a lop-sided way by the regime. The other condition, apart from the lifting of sanctions, is that a brutal dictatorship is gone. I certainly would not accept – except perhaps in the very short term – that the situation, either in Iraq or Afghanistan, is worse than ever. It has to be much better.

People's attitude to the war, which obviously to a great degree is already made up, is still capable of being influenced and affected by the success or failure of the occupying powers – undoubtedly, the correct term – to overcome the humanitarian problems. I do not care greatly which particular firms profit, or do not profit, from the situation, provided they do what is required to rebuild the country quickly and provided that the medical, social and infrastructural problems are properly and effectively addressed.

It is not possible to divorce this discussion from the ostensible justification, which was not principally humanitarian but revolved around weapons of mass destruction. The questions still hanging in the air are whether the threat was totally exaggerated and whether the evidence was doctored. The work of the UN inspectors was certainly cut short and Dr. Hans Blix remains unhappy about the position. Many of us who dealt with Northern Ireland in the past would have heard a very hollow laugh from the former Northern Ireland Secretary, Dr. John Reid, who once referred to rogue elements in the intelligence services.

On the other hand, the Iraqi regime did not help its own case. The mystery is not why it did not use weapons of mass destruction if it possessed them – because obviously that would have provided an ex post facto justification for the war, as well as inviting massive retaliation – but why it gave the UN inspectors and the international community the run-around for so long. Perhaps it wanted to keep options open for the future and perhaps it was very difficult for a totalitarian regime to open up in the way that was required.

As has been pointed out by Senator Ó Murchú and others, there are humanitarian disasters, very nasty dictatorships and conflicts, some of which are fuelled by arms exports, elsewhere in the world. In addition, there are huge problems of governance in some countries. We are still heavily influenced by the habits of the Cold War, which dictate that one cannot influence these situations because otherwise one would be inviting a nuclear holocaust.

I liked the Minister of State's comment to the effect that "The Iraqi people have the inalienable right to a representative government of their own choosing and the sooner this can be achieved the better for everyone." However, it is my view that every people in the world have the right to a representative government and to change that government. Through diplomatic and other pressures, rather than conflict, I hope that over the coming century we can gradually get to a situation where, as the Minister of State said, it will be one of the human rights that everyone will recognise.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I would have wished to have heard the debate in the House but that was not possible. From what I have heard, however, I gather that it was interesting, realistic, informative and comprehensive. I would not have thought otherwise because, from the beginning of the conflict in Iraq, the House has been to the fore in expressing its opinions. Some would say that on several occasions those opinions were full-blooded and, if so, why not? Members of the House, regardless of whether they take a party whip, should feel free to express their genuine opinions. I have used the House to that effect and have always found that if one is honest in one's reflections they will be respected by all sides.

I have no doubt that the forces currently in Iraq, in addition to the Irish humanitarian aid input, will make a difference in time. As yet, however, the citizens' lot has certainly not improved following the war. I am sure that matters will improve because that is the nature of such events as they unfold. Our thoughts on this matter were, on occasion, somewhat ambiguous because nobody wanted to keep Saddam's reign intact; nobody wanted to leave in place such a villain who was so clearly in defiance of human rights. Most people had figured that out and kept it in mind. Equally, however, there was a sense of dread, shock and awe – although not in the way we had been told to believe shock and awe would come about when the coalition forces moved in – that people were prepared to tell us directly what was happening. The use of television and other mass media in war means that people everywhere have a vivid and instant way of knowing what exactly is happening, although it may not amount to a full understanding.

For many of us, the abiding idea of those days was summed up in the clear and unambiguous statement that weapons of mass destruction were lying ready for use in Iraq and that war had to be declared or the world would be overcome immediately. That direct appeal was made to those who feared that such events would occur. Many people had such concerns, particularly given what appeared to be the utmost sincerity with which those words were uttered in many television interviews and at various international fora.

I know that many Senators have made these points during the debate and I apologise for not having been present to hear them. There were Senators from all sides of the House who never believed in the theory, so roundly enunciated, that weapons of mass destruction were awaiting each and every citizen, not of Iraq, but of the world, if they were to be unleashed upon us. We all harbour primitive fears within ourselves and those statements were clearly made to appeal to such fears. Now, however, we are told that it does not really matter and that investigations are under way in the United States and the United Kingdom.

It is true that if one keeps on talking like that after the event, people will ask one to shut up because the conflict is over. I accept that the conflict is over, but we believe in having sincerity and truth in those who aim to be the leaders of countries. Even after all I have been through in many spheres of public life, I still feel it was wrong to gull people by stating that there was a need to go into Iraq because it possessed weapons of mass destruction. Clearly, such weapons are not there.

Our hope now is that not only will the humanitarian effort provide food and water, but also that law and order and democracy will return to Iraq so that people will have a way of ruling themselves in a positive way according to their wishes. When power returns to the people, they will have the opportunity of ruling themselves.

I do not want to sound like a Job's comforter, but whether the people in Afghanistan, for example, are better off now. What has happened there and where is the democracy? It will come in time. We can look back at our own history, particularly the Civil War period, and see what came out of it eventually. It is the wish of this Chamber that democracy will eventually rule in Iraq.

I wish to thank the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, who continues to be a great friend of the Seanad. We always welcome him here because we know that he not only speaks from the script but also from the heart.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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It is important to have a Minister of State of that nature.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator O'Rourke and all the Members who have spoken. I find debates such as this very helpful and enlightening. What represents the best part of this great democracy are the many individual views coming through from various parties, including my own, which I welcome.

It is clear from my contribution that I did not underestimate the seriousness of the situation. I thank those who noted what I said. I did not underestimate the seriousness of the humanitarian and security situation and the difficulties and challenges ahead in making the transition to democratic and civilian rule. I will go through briefly the issues raised, beginning with the motion.

From the outset of the conflict the Government recalled repeatedly the obligations and responsibilities of the combatants under international humanitarian law. We accept wholeheartedly the importance of the observance of international and humanitarian law by the occupying powers which have fully accepted their responsibilities and obligations in repeated public statements. UN Security Council Resolution 1483, which the occupying powers supported, called upon all powers to comply fully with their obligations. I agree that the occupying powers should do all in their power to meet their obligations and address the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. I make one technical point – the conventions do not contain the language used in the final phrase of the motion.

I am in agreement with those who find it unacceptable that politicians would use the term "punish the French" or "punish anybody" in the post-Iraq war situation. As someone who has been involved in international politics for some time, it is not acceptable for any of us in the western world who claim to be committed to promoting democracy, freedom of speech, tolerance or reconciliation in other parts of the world to use this kind of language. I support the Members who made this point. It is a time for tolerance and cool heads and for us to get down to considering the challenges ahead. I am very heartened by the comments made by Senators on this point.

My commitment is to the humanitarian side. I will cover briefly many of the points made by Senators. I agree strongly that we must serve the needs of the poorest of the poor. The needs to which I am referring are food, water, sanitation and medical treatment. Our focus will be on the basic needs. With regard to infrastructure reconstruction, these areas will be financed in part by the restored oil revenues, rightly so. As many have said, we will do what we do best.

I agree also that other parts of the world are more deserving of our attention. Senator Ó Murchú, in particular, will recall my comments in Ethiopia on its needs. There is the problem of HIV and AIDS in Africa which the Government is committed to resolving, if possible. There is no way we will take our eye off that part of the world because it is nearest and dearest to our hearts. There are still major humanitarian needs to be met in Iraq in the short term which I will do everything possible, with my EU colleagues, to address.

Senator Henry raised specific questions, including that of immunisation. Obviously, this is an issue of crucial importance. We already support the efforts of the Red Cross and UNICEF in the health sector and the work of NGOs, all of which devote their efforts to preventing the spread of disease in Iraq. It is important that the Senator raised the issue which I will keep in mind.

I agree with Senators that the occupying powers have a responsibility to protect humanitarian aid workers, the people best positioned to deal with the problem. It is vital to provide international agencies and NGOs with the space to carry out their work. Stable and secure conditions must be established because the situation is still very dangerous and unstable.

Senator Henry mentioned the case of two women scientists. I will certainly make inquiries to see what is known about them. She also spoke about the harvest in the Kurdish area. I will make inquiries because I do not have any details.

Senator Bradford and others referred to Irish Government representation in Iraq. The majority of our EU partners are committed to reopening their offices in Baghdad. The Government is keeping the matter under review and any decision will be strongly influenced by the security situation. No decision has yet been made but the Government will consider the establishment of diplomatic relations with Iraq once an internationally recognised government is in place.

I thank Senators for their contributions. This debate will be of tremendous help in shaping our foreign policy. I am very conscious that we have a proud independent tradition. This is not the easiest situation for many of us. However, we will do our best and play the part we always play on the humanitarian side and in speaking our mind on how the situation in Iraq should develop.

Sitting suspended at 2 p.m. and resumed at 3p.m.